Paul L. Thompson, the first black and Vietnam veteran to head the Disabled American Veterans, died Wednesday of pneumonia at Sinai Hospital.
The 72-year-old Northwest Baltimore resident was elected national commander of the 623,000-member veterans' organization in 1979.
He retired in 1966 with a disability after 26 years of military service.
Mr. Thompson began his career in 1939 in the Army. He served in the South Pacific, earned five Bronze Stars and was discharged with the rank of master sergeant. In 1951 he re-enlisted in the Air Force. He served until 1952 in Korea. From 1965 to 1966, he served in Vietnam.
After returning to Baltimore, he became involved in veterans' affairs and the Disabled American Veterans' Chapter 1. He also volunteered at area veterans' hospitals.
He worked for several years for the U.S. Postal Service as a mail handler and truck driver.
He was appointed to the Maryland Veterans' Commission in 1971 and was elected DAV Department of Maryland commander in 1975.
Born and reared in Baltimore, he was educated in city schools and was a 1939 graduate of Carver High School.
Active in many civic and fraternal groups, he was the first black to become past grand knight of Cardinal Shehan of Baltimore Post 205 of the Knights of Columbus and past navigator of the Charles Carroll of Carrollton Assembly Fourth Degree of the Knights of Columbus.
He was a member of the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Catholic War Veterans.
"He was an organization man," recalled his brother Arthur Thompson of Lithonia, Ga. "He tried to do all he could for disabled servicemen. That was his calling."
Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 9:15 a.m. today at the Basilica of the Assumption Roman Catholic Church, 500 Cathedral St. in Baltimore, where he was a communicant and usher. Interment will be in the Garrison Forest Veterans Cemetery.
In addition to his brother, Mr. Thompson is survived by his wife, the former Margaret Wimberly, whom he married in 1941; two sons, Cyril D. Thompson of New York City and William A. Thompson of Carlsbad, Calif.; two other brothers, James Thompson of Baltimore and Wilbur Thompson of Boston; and eight grandchildren.